Wayne Elsey was watching television one night when he saw a picture of a shoe washing up on a beach.

That image was broadcast in the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2004, and it moved Elsey, himself a shoe company executive,  into action.

He quickly made a few calls to some of his colleagues in the shoe business. Soon he collected donations of a quarter million shoes for the storm’s victims.

A few months later, when Katrina hit, Elsey made some calls again, and garnered donations of over a million pairs of shoes to send down the Gulf Coast.

With such an outpouring of support for the needy, Elsey soon realized he was on to something and created the nonprofit Soles4Souls — to collect shoes for those who do not have them.

Now, Jewish Pittsburgh has the chance to participate, as a community, in Soles4Souls.

Through an initiative begun by the Pittsburgh Conference of Jewish Women’s Organizations (PCJWO), local organizations will be collecting shoes through Tuesday, March 13.

So far, 20 congregations and other Jewish groups have set up boxes at their various locations in a joint effort to amass 20,000 pairs of shoes.

“We have contacted every Jewish organization and congregation, asking them to participate,” said Dena Chottiner, president of the PCJWO. “Everyone is on the same page. People are seeing the boxes, and getting excited.”

Collection boxes are already set up at the following locales: Yeshiva Girls School, Hillel Academy, Community Day School, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, NA’AMAT, National Council of Jewish Women, Riverview Towers, Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry, American Technion Society, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and several synagogues throughout the area.

“It makes me thrilled that we are all doing the same thing at the same time,” Chottiner said. “That was my goal.”

There are currently 300 million children worldwide who do not have shoes, according to an informational video produced by Soles4Souls.

Some Jewish Pittsburghers are finding that the shoe project provides a good lesson in tikkun olam.

“We filled up our box really quickly with shoes,” said Chani Altein, a first-grade teacher at Yeshiva Girls School, who started the project with her class at the beginning of February. “We have made flyers for the rest of the school, and the girls will be going in pairs to announce it to the other classes. This is the perfect project for the first-graders.”

Any organization wishing to acquire a donation box should contact Carol Wolsh at 412-521-1758.

For more information contact PCJWO President Dena Chottiner at 412-672-3979 or

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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